Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 6, 2019

Exit at Lordsburg, New Mexico: Library Gem off the Beaten Track

When you drive across the southern United States between Los Angeles, California  and Jacksonville, Florida on Interstate Route 10, you’ll eventually have to stop for — as the highway signs have it — Gas, Food, Lodging.

To give you some perspective, LA-to-Jacksonville is 2,419 miles (3,893 km), give or take: about 35 hours of driving.

To put that in a European perspective, that’s equivalent to the distance between Madrid and Moscow.

America’s a big place. But, the scenery’s … also big.

I10 Arizona Brad Nixon 6659 680

On my most recent trip, I traveled from Los Angeles to southwestern New Mexico, which took me through the high desert of southeastern Arizona.

I10 Arizona Brad Nixon 6649 680

One good place to stop is Lordsburg, New Mexico, at 4,200 feet elevation in high desert country, 640 miles from Los Angeles.

Lordsburg was a nexus for transportation well before interstate highways or even automobiles. In the 19th century it was — and still is — a major rail transportation center.

Lordsburg train Brad Nixon 6138 680

In the 1800s, silver and copper mining was the principal business in Hidalgo County, and Lordsburg was the center for shipping ore via the Southern Pacific line. The mines have shut down, and once-booming Lordsburg has shrunk to a small town of 2,700 people. Still, it’s the most populous town in remote Hidalgo County.

If all you do is pull off I-10 for fuel and food, you’ll find gas stations, restaurants and motels, but you’ll miss the heart of Lordsburg, a few blocks to the north. There’s a town there, with a rich history.

Let’s pull off the road and look around.

Your first stop is Exit 24, East Motel Road. Get off the highway, turn right toward empty desert landscape and stop at the intersection with oddly-named POW Road.

POW Road Brad Nixon 6132 680

In English, so far as I know, “POW” signifies one thing only: “Prisoner of War.” And so it was.

During World War II, the U.S. federal government interned all identifiable residents of Japanese descent in a number of concentration camps (termed “detention centers”). One of the smaller camps was in the arid scrubland outside Lordsburg. Like most of the camp sites, the Lordsburg one is no longer open to the public. There is nothing that remains to be seen. Only a highway marker notes the site.

Lordsburg camp Brad Nixon 6128 680

Eventually, the Japanese-American citizens were moved to a camp in North Dakota, and the Lordsburg camp housed German and Italian prisoners of war: POWs.

What any of those people made of their time in that stark, austere landscape is beyond me to say.

Lordsburg camp Brad Nixon 6133 680

In the Town

Drive in to Lordsburg, though, and you’ll find a small, thriving town. It’s the county seat, boasting an attractive courthouse, which opened in 1927.

Hidalgo courthouse Brad Nixon 6141 680

I strolled in to the Hidalgo County Courthouse on a day when court was not in session. A friendly administrator was glad to have a visitor interested in the place. The building is not ornate, but with its grand staircase leading up to the courtroom, it’s an appropriately formal structure.

Lordsburg CH int Brad Nixon 6146 680

Outside the courthouse is a monument that is all too common across the towns of southern New Mexico.

Bataan memorial Brad Nixon 6143 680

As WWII began, the 200 and 215th Coast Artillery Regiment were deployed to the Bataan Peninsula, across Manila Bay from Manila, Philippines, and Corregidor Island, in the bay. The regiments were based in Deming, New Mexico. A large number of the men were from southern New Mexico.

Once the United States surrendered in the battle of Corregidor, the surviving American and Filipino soldiers were marched under brutal conditions and held in prison camps for nearly four years. Approximately 45 per cent of the American forces perished during that ordeal, the Bataan Death March. Those are some of the names, and there are similar memorials in every southern New Mexico town I’ve visited.

The irony of New Mexicans being held prisoner in the Pacific while Japanese-Americans were interned in their own home town is almost impossible to overstate.

A Few Blocks Away: the Library

The centerpiece of the Lordsburg visit, though, was the Lordsburg-Hidalgo Library.

Lordsburg library Brad Nixon 6163 680

The presence of a well-supported library in any small town says something positive about a place, and Lordsburg’s library is a testament to the values of its citizens.

Built as a federal Works Progress Administration project in 1936, it’s a genuine adobe structure, not an imitation.

Okay, library, fans, let’s go inside. Get ready for this one.

Lordsburg Library Brad Nixon 6160 680

The library desk occupies a tall, compact atrium.

Look up. The roof is supported by traditional viga wood beams.

Lordsburg Library Brad Nixon 6161 680

In these photos, you also get a glimpse of the stained glass windows that provide both light and ambience.

Lordsburg Library Brad Nixon 6157 680

A notable portion of the library’s collection is in their Southwestern Room.

Lordsburg Library Brad Nixon 6158 680

Some of the 2,000 books and documents in that room are unique, and scholars come to Lordsburg-Hildalgo’s collection for material not available in university libraries. The library has a staff historian, on duty in the mornings, according to the website.

Who would not want to spend a quiet hour or two in this quiet refuge, insulated from the 112-degree temperature outside by thick adobe walls?

That’s what we found when we left the highway to see Lordsburg. What did you find when you left a main-traveled road? Leave a comment.

Lordsburg Library Brad Nixon 6154 680

Visiting Lordsburg

The map below shows Lordsburg, red flag, in southwestern New Mexico, in relation to Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Las Cruces and El Paso.

The Hidalgo County Courthouse is at 300 Shakespeare Street. Operating hours and other information at https://sixthdistrictcourt.nmcourts.gov/hidalgo-county.aspx.

Lordsburg-Hidalgo Library is 208 East Third St. Operating hours and other information at https://www.lordsburghidalgolibrary.com.

Lordsburg map Google

© Brad Nixon 2019. Map copyright Google. My grateful acknowledgment to the professionals at the Hidalgo County Courthouse and Lordsburg-Hidalgo Library for their gracious welcome.


Responses

  1. I can’t travel for more than two hours without getting exhausted, so it’s nice to be able to get a view of others’ trips, particularly when they come with these sorts of views – that sky is amazing, with the low cloud hanging in front of the mountains.

    While I’m not a great fan of ‘fussy’ that staircase needs something more ornate than a plain carpet…

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sky was actually an early morning, leaving New Mexico. Normally in summer, desert monsoon rains come in afternoon, but we got one that morning.
      I suspect that a lot of the courthouse decor has been removed, bit by bit, over the years, and once may have been a bit more ornate.
      Than you for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is perfectly UWS! Thank you for the inspiration to explore off the beaten path, and to remember that there are hidden gems in the most unexpected places.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As welcome a compliment as I could ever wish. A great deal of credit to having an adventurous travel partner — The Counselor, in my case — who endorses the notion that sometimes you’re going to traipse around a little-known place in 112-heat, just to see what there is to see. And look what you find. What’s the opposite of a Libreria Acqua Alta? Una biblioteca senza acqua?

      Liked by 1 person


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